Politics: Bug-buster appointed to head millennium task force

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A WOMAN engineer was yesterday appointed Britain's official millennium bug-buster.

Gwynneth Flower is to be full-time director of Action 2000, the government- sponsored organisation which has the task of mobilising business to face up to the threat of the year 2000 computer crisis.

Because thousands of computers, and millions of computer programmes, work on two-digit years, the year 2000 will be represented by 00 - and many machines will falsely read that as 1900, with unknown consequences. Some machines are certain to "crash", and there could be unpredictable chain-reactions with linked systems.

Ms Flower told The Independent last night: "Our priority is to stop the cataclysmic happening, but inconvenience is something we will all have to live with, when it happens.

"There will be a lot of problems to sort out, even if we avert major crisis. The basic structure of life will continue, even though a lot of the niceties may have gone. If your car breaks down, the central heating stops, the fax doesn't work, that's not catastrophic. But if there's no transport, the banks can't release money, food doesn't get to the shops, and you can't fly around the place, then we have got problems ...

"If we raise too much of an Armageddon scenario, people shut off their minds and become fatalistic and say there is nothing they can do. We have to strike a balance between complacency on the one hand, and panic on the other. We have got to raise anxiety."

Ms Flower was until recently head of the Central London Training and Enterprise Council. Aged 59, she has worked for BP as manager of communications development, as a director of Plessey Electronic Systems, and as director of sales and marketing with GEC Marconi.